Has Ireland Lost Its Soul?
Has Ireland lost its soul? To answer the question, one must focus on Irish symbols, language, history, culture, and religion. The following represents my attempt to do so as both a proud and deeply concerned Irishman.
As obvious as it sounds, for Ireland to be authentically Irish, the country needs Irish people. But do Irish people need Ireland? For tens of thousands of us, the answer appears to be no.
For the first time in history, the number of Irish people leaving the country has overtaken the number of people returning. Further, the number of non-Irish nationals moving to Ireland continues to grow. Before I am accused of xenophobia, let me say the following: If you opt to have an espresso, then proceed to add granulated sugar, whipped cream, sprinkles, and syrup, it is no longer an espresso. What replaces it may very well be a feast for the senses, but it’s no longer the original product. If you extract tens of thousands of Irish people from the Irish equation, then add people of different nationalities, the equation takes on a different form. It becomes more complex.
Ireland has certainly become more multicultural and cosmopolitan. This, of course, has many benefits. However, Ireland’s charm never had anything to do with being cosmopolitan. If anything, it was the nation’s provincial charm that endeared Ireland to the world. The country was a rough jewel – flawed but beautiful.
At least we still have the dark humor… or do we?
Subversive humor is a fundamental part of being Irish, or at least it used to be. The country is now plagued by political correctness; indeed, two thirds of Irish people think the country has become too politically correct.
Their concerns are warranted. For well over a year, there has been a concerted effort to tear down monuments around the country. Many of the “problematic” figures being targeted fought for Irish freedom, yet the historical significance of their selflessness is lost on the mob. Without the bravery of someone like Sean Russell, an Irish republican who fought in the 1916 Rising, the liberation of Ireland from oppressive forces would not have been possible.
Interestingly, as levels of political correctness increase, levels of religiosity decrease. Many commentators have called political correctness a religion of sorts, and perhaps they have a point. However, if political correctness is a replacement religion, it is a very poor one.
First and foremost, religion is a socio-cultural system. It provides people with a sense of meaning and belonging. Religious affiliation and church attendance are proven to enhance camaraderie within communities. Moreover, religiously-involved people tend to have larger social networks. Catholicism, the main religion in Ireland, is dying a quick death at the same time that Islam is on the rise. By 2043, Islam is set to become the second-largest religion in the country. If France has taught us anything, it is that Islam and secular governments do not always enjoy a harmonious relationship.
When it comes to matters of identity, language is arguably the most important factor. As obvious as it sounds, speaking Irish – or at least possessing the ability to speak as Gaeilge – used to be an integral part of Irish identity. Now, however, activists are petitioning to make Irish an optional subject in schools. Considering that less than five percent of Ireland’s population speaks Irish as their mother tongue, we should be actively working to save the language, not erase it.
As Lane Wallace wrote in a fantastic essay for The Atlantic, “Language discloses cultural and historical meaning, the loss of language is a loss of that link to the past. Without a link to the past, people in a culture lose a sense of place, purpose and path; one must know where one came from to know where one is going.”
Where is Ireland going? Somewhere very different. Somewhere far less authentically Irish.